The article below was sent to Cocorioko as a tribute to the late former President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. Though titled, ” Late President Tejan Kabbah – condolence message from former US Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Joe Melrose”, it is a citation on the late President at the time he was still in power on International Women’s Day in 2007
CITATION ON HIS EXCELLENCY, THE PRESIDENT OF SIERRA LEONE, ALHAJI DR. AHMAD TEJAN KABBAH ON INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY, 2007
Your Excellency, the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone
Your Excellency the Vice President
Honourable Members of Parliament,
Your Excellencies and Members of the Diplomatic Corps
My dynamic sisters in the search for equality
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen
It is with deep pride and a sense of great privilege that I stand here to make this Citation to our much-loved President and Defender of the Rights of the Sierra Leonean woman.
Our distinguished President was born on February 16, 1932 at Pendembu in Kailahun District. The family relocated to Freetown not too long after he was born and settled at the East end of the capital. He received his early education at the Foulah Town Amaria and Islamia Schools and later, the Saint Edwards Secondary School at King Tom. Coming from a devout Muslim background, one can safely say that it was here that the seeds of religious tolerance and understanding that are so much a part of this great man’s make-up began to take root. Little wonder then that when he eventually decided to get married he had no hesitation in choosing a woman of the Catholic faith.
After secondary school he continued his studies at the University College of Wales, in Aberyswyth, from where, in 1958, he obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Economics. He returned home a year later and became one of the first indigenous African District Commissioners to be posted to what was then known as the Protectorate. His characteristic penchant for hard work and dedication to duty soon paid dividends because within five years he had risen to the enviable position of Permanent Secretary.
Not content with resting on his laurels, in 1969, he left the Civil Service after ten years, in hot pursuit of the proverbial golden-fleece in the form of a stint at Gray’s Inn where he read law. On completion, he practised for just one year before he was drawn into the United Nations system where he was to spend the next twenty-one years of his life. By the time he retired from this renowned organization in 1992, as Director for Administrative and Management Services, he had gained a formidable wealth of experience as a result of the various positions he had held during his tenure there.
It is, however, not enough to talk about President Kabbah’s scholastic, professional and career achievements. These have a great part to play in the reason why we are here. But, more importantly, (and may I say this is why we are honoring him today), we need to know the kind of person he is when he is not being, and I quote, “one of the best civil servants around” or “an international civil servant of high repute” or an astute and renowned lawyer or, indeed, even the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Sierra Leone. In order to do justice to the character of this great man, I crave your indulgence as I quote from the Citation that was made about him in 1996 when he was honoured by the University of Sierra Leone with the award of the degree of Doctor of Civil Law (Honoris Causa).
Among other things, he was described as “an articulate gentleman, elegant in speech and habit, always exquisitely turned out…an action-oriented perfectionist, a dedicated, even compulsive worker, with a high sense of professionalism. Some say he is a believer in people and in the inherent goodness of man, but that he often betrays some degree of naivety because he likes to see things in neat patterns and precise cubicles, and when people disappoint him and prove unworthy of expectations, he is shocked out of his humanism. On the other hand, he is possessed of an intuitive self determination and strong will, even stubbornness; but he is also a good listener and an objective judge of character who is not above admitting his own fault and asking for forgiveness if he believes that he has erred. Though he has been known to lose his temper, he is essentially a man of peace and will go to great lengths to have peace and stability prevail in his environment.”
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, it is for these qualities, among many others, that we the women of Sierra Leone are honouring our dear Pa Kabbah, as he is fondly known by all and sundry, today. Mr. President, Sir, we, the women of this country, salute you with the utmost fervour and the highest regard!! We consider you to be the greatest champion of the cause of women that Sierra Leone has ever known!! Your compassion and understanding of the needs of women, not only in Sierra Leone, but in other places, such as Lesotho and Tanzania, where you worked as a UN official are legendary. You gave us your fullest support in 2001 when you personally launched the 50/50 Group at the State Hall of Parliament. While others were not even bothering to find out exactly what we were trying to do and instead derided us and dismissed our vision as unworkable, you referred to us as, and I quote: “The most courageous women in the world.” You showed your appreciation by saying, again I quote from your speech at the Launching: “That Sierra Leone is a budding democracy today is due largely to the drive, determination, resourcefulness and creative qualities of the women of this nation.” And, indeed, you did not renege on your resolve to “conduct our national affairs in such a way as to put a high premium on recognising individuals with quality, particularly women”. This is made evident by the fact that since you took up the mantle as leader of this country in 1996 you have worked steadfastly to increase the number of women in political and leadership positions. For instance, your Government of 1996 to 2002 included 9 women: 2 Cabinet Ministers, 2 Deputy Ministers and 5 Members of Parliament. Not content with that, in the five years spanning 2002 to 2007 you increased the numbers to: 3 Cabinet Ministers, 3 Deputy Ministers and 18 Members of Parliament.
Your Excellency, Sir, I make so bold as to say that in terms of according Sierra Leonean women the recognition, equality and inclusion they rightfully deserve, your government is like no other government before it. Not only are there more women MPs and Cabinet Ministers than this country has ever known but you have also appointed or made it possible for women to hold such high level positions as Head of the National Electoral Commission, Head of Immigration and Head of the Independent Media Commission, all of which were previously male preserves.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, we cannot but duff our hats to His Excellency the President, Alhaji Dr. Ahmed Tejan Kabba for putting on his gender lenses and, by example, encouraging others to do so. Mr. President, thank you for acknowledging, by your actions, that the peace achieved through the blood, sweat, tears and humiliation of our women should not just be left to the men to manage. Inasmuch as we women made such sacrifices for peace, we must walk and work side by side with our men to manage that peace in our beloved country! That is what the 50/50 Group is all about and that is what we all are asking for.
Sir, you once recalled that your late wife, who worked assiduously towards the empowerment of women, used to say: “A man of quality must not be afraid of a woman in quest of equality.” In the ten years since you have held the reigns of leadership in this country, you have proved beyond every reasonable doubt that you are a man of quality. You did so by joining forces with the women of Sierra Leone in their quest for equality – and it is for this reason that we are honouring you today with this plaque. This is just a token of our esteem and appreciation for all you have done for us.